Fly Fishing With Emergers: An Angler’s Guide

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.Like any activity in life, the more thorough you are, the more successful you will be. Fly fishing is no different. There are many nuances within the sport that most anglers don’t focus on because they fail to see the importance. Fly fishing with emerger flies is…

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Like any activity in life, the more thorough you are, the more successful you will be. Fly fishing is no different. There are many nuances within the sport that most anglers don’t focus on because they fail to see the importance.

Fly fishing with emerger flies is one area of fly fishing that consistently gets ignored. Most anglers focus on streamers, nymphs and dry flies. The emerging state of the fly, however, is a favorite for trout.

Growing up, I never learned about emerger flies. I spent most of my time fishing streamers and dry flies. It wasn’t until I spent a summer in Wyoming that I learned how valuable these flies can be. From then on, I’ve been using them every time I possibly can!

What is an Emerger?

Emerging flies are in the process of changing from a larva to an adult fly. As the flies are hatching, emerging flies are plentiful. Also, they’re easy to find when the bugs are laying eggs.

When flies break out of their shuck, they move up in the water column. These flies are trapped in the film on the surface of the water. Emerger flies not able to get their wings through the film to dry them out and fly away.

A close-up photo of an emerger

What these flies will do is drift along the surface of the water and hope they don’t get eaten by a fish. At some point, they hope to fully break through the film of the water and fully dry their wings. If this doesn’t happen, they are guaranteed to become fish food or die because they can’t complete their life cycle.

When To Use Emerger Flies?

Emerging flies are great to use right before a hatch. If you can see insects moving on the surface, go ahead and tie on an emerging fly. You don’t have a long time to fish these flies, but the short time before the hatch, you’ll land a nice amount of fish.

There is one clear hint that the fish will give you if they are feeding on emerging flies. If you see tails or fins breaking the surface, you know that the flies aren’t fully hatched. They’re likely stuck in the film and the fish are feeding on these flies.

As soon as you start to see fish clear the surface of the water, you’ll know that the hatch is in full swing. You have another 10-20 minutes of fishing before the majority of flies are full adults and have dried their wings.

Since the window is small, be sure that you’re paying close attention. Again, successful fly anglers pay close attention to the details. If you don’t, you may lose out on another dozen or so fish. It takes time to pick up on these clues, but once you do, you’ll gain a new appreciation for fly fishing.

How To Cast an Emerger?

Casting emerging flies is not too difficult. They feel similar to a caddis or midge. They’re lightweight, but they do contain a bit more material. This material is meant to pull the fly a bit lower in the water column.

You want to be patient and be sure that you can hit all portions of the water. Wherever you see a dry fly, there will be an emerging fly. There aren’t any special tricks with emerging flies.

fly fishing emerger flies

As long as you can lay them down softly, you’ll be good to go. These flies are moving up from the bottom of the water column. Fish don’t want to see one of these slap the water because they’ll know that it isn’t natural.

The Best Emerger Flies

There are hundreds of emerging fly patterns that anglers can choose from. It’s best to visit a local fly shop before you choose which ones to purchase. Since they can be so varied it’s important that you make the right choice.

Emerging Para Dun

The Emerging Para Dun is a must have in any emerger box. This fly is an obvious representation of a mayfly and is one of the more realistic options that you have. If you know mayflies are what is hatching, but aren’t exactly sure what kind, throw on this fly.

It can imitate a BWO, Paraleps, Drakes, Hedrickson and March Brown. This fly is going to sit just below the surface. The “wings” will break the surface as it drifts down the river. You can find these flies from size 12-20 in a variety of colors.

With emerger flies, you don’t need bright colors. These should be more of an earth tone. The fish will have no trouble finding these flies! Some anglers believe that they need an extremely bright fly when fishing emerges, but this isn’t the case!

Photo of RS 2 on the sand


The RS2 is another must have for anyone looking to imitate a BWO. Blue Winged Olives are some of the most popular flies in America. They hatch from the east coast to west coast.

If you start to see flies hatching, but aren’t 100 percent convinced the fish are looking towards the surface, go ahead and throw one of these flies. These flies are very small and can be challenging to throw. However, with a bit of practice, you’ll find the balance.

This fly sits a little further below the surface than most emerging patterns. As a result, some anglers choose to put a bit of floatant on this fly to keep it more towards the surface. This is up to you! If you’re finding that the fish are moving higher in the water column, give it a try.

Sparkle Dun

The Sparkle Dun is almost a dry fly. The deer hair that acts as the wings keeps this fly higher in the water column. It will take on water and fall in the water column, so don’t worry.

If you’re fishing fast water filled with obstructions, throw the sparkle dun. The extra material that keeps this higher in the column is useful in these situations. Emerging patterns that quickly sink are difficult to fish in broken water.

They’ll find themselves snagged and in all sorts of trouble. Fish will sit in the riffles and still feed on the dry flies. While the rises are more difficult to see due to the fast water, you can guarantee they’re there.

There are few guarantees in fly fishing. But if emerging flies are going to work, you can bet this one is money.

A photo of the klinkhammer


The Klinkhammer is much more famous in Europe than it is in the United States. It works both as an emerging fly as well as an attractor fly. Emerging flies can work very well as searching flies.

In the midst of a hatch or later in the afternoon when you aren’t quite sure what is happening, throw on the Klinkhammer. This will cover quite a bit of water and give you a better idea of what the fish are wanting.

There are many days when you aren’t going to be sure what the fish want. If you know that you have a few patterns that are going to help you search, then add this to the list. Fly fishing is a fun game of hide and seek! The fish are extremely good at it so it’s good to provide yourself an edge.

LaFontaine Sparkle Pupa

It’s not easy to tie caddis emerger patterns. Caddis flies actually stay in a “bubble” when they’re emerging patterns. The bubble usually bursts once it is in fresh air, but when these flies get stuck in the film, the sack will not burst.

The Sparkle Caddis Pupa keeps a bit of that bubble, but also shows the wings. It’s a nice mixture. Caddis fly fishing is some of the most fun fishing you can do. I’ll throw one of these flies if I’m getting too anxious for the hatch.

I’ll likely get lucky a few times and land some fish before the hatch begins. This is another great search pattern if you’re wondering what the fish want to eat. The extra bit of flash is a nice touch for this fly.

You can find this pattern anywhere between size 12-20. I like to throw a size 16. Size 20 flies are difficult to maneuver and I don’t have as much success on flies that small. However, the 16 is a great spot to meet in the middle.

Birchell’s Hatching Midge

Midge patterns are some of the most common emergers you can find. They’re easy to tie and the most prevalent. However, Birchell’s emerging pattern is a wonderful fly.

If you are a big fan of tailwaters, this is a fly that you must have in your box. The cold water makes it easy for flies to hatch, but this is a nice balance that will land you quite a few fish. If you’re debating between two different midge emerger patterns, always choose this one.

Barr Emerger

The Barr Emerger is almost a representation of a nymph. The only thing that is missing is a beadhead near the eye of the hook. This fly will fluctuate in the water column. If you want a searching pattern, this is a wonderful option.

The darker colors make it a wonderful option in dark water. Fish this fly at the tail end of runoff season. It’ll make your life a bit easier. Focus on the banks of the streams and rivers. Let this one float along the bank and see what you can uncover.

Parachute Caddis Emerger

The Parachute Caddis Emerger fly looks confused. It’s essentially a traditional caddis pattern with some of the “bubble” attached. This is a smart fly to use when you know the flies are hatching, but it’s early.

This gives you the best of worlds. I like to throw this fly for the entirety of a hatch. The fish aren’t too picky and are willing to eat it regardless of the time in the hatch. You can find these anywhere from size 12-20. Also, the olive color is the best option!

I own all colors of this pattern and olive is far and away the most productive.

Gear To Use When Fishing With Emergers

When you’re fishing with emergers, you need to be sure that you can have some finesse with your casts. However, if you know there are some larger fish in the water you’re in, be sure that you have enough power to land these fish. It’s a healthy balance!


Your rod must be able to lay down a fly softly. The size of the rod isn’t as important as your confidence. We all own rods that we love. Wherever someone tells us to cast, we can do it. This is the rod you need to use when fishing with emerger patterns.

a fly rod and reel on the river

However, a 4 or 5-weight is going to be your best option if you had to choose. They have some power, but still allow you to make soft casts.


Your reel has to match your rod. Balance is key for accurate casts. If you’re being weighed down by the balance of your rod, check your reel. You can’t go more than one size larger or smaller than your rod.

For example, if you use a 5-weight rod your reel must either be a 4 or 6-weight. Also, make sure that you purchase a large arbor reel. Even if you aren’t targeting extremely large fish, a large arbor will give you peace of mind.

a man fishing with his fly fishing gear a fly rod and reel on the river

I have found myself in plenty of situations where I’m not too confident in how much line I have on my reel. I decided to make a change and buy all large arbor reels. I haven’t lost a fish due to a lack of line yet.


Emerging patterns and line choice can be tricky. What I usually do is use a floating line. Since we want these flies to sit a little below the surface, people are tempted to use weight forward lines.

Best 8wt fly line featured image

Floating line is actually a better choice. Let your leader and fly determine how low your fly gets in the water. You don’t need any extra force from your line. Emerging patterns should be able to float in the water column and a floating line is the best option for this.


Leader is vital when it comes to fishing emerging patterns. I usually stick with a 3 or 4x traditional. I know they’re strong, but not too intrusive. Another thing to remember is that a tapered leader can be difficult to maneuver.

Do yourself a favor and use traditional leader.


5x tippet is the way to go with emerging flies. You want the fly to be in control. This lighter tippet allows the fly to call the shots and put itself where it wants in the water column.

4x is another solid option if you’re thinking that you’ll hook into some larger fish. At that point, however, it’s not the end of the world regardless of what you choose!

Emerger Fly Fishing Techniques, Tips & Tricks

There are a lot of things anglers must know before they begin fishing with emerger patterns. Types of water and fish determine how you need to fish. Follow these tips and tricks and see what you can find!

Do You Need an Indicator?

Indicators are not bad ideas when you’re using emerger patterns. If you know that your fly is going to drop in the water column, go ahead and put some strike putty on your line. Just a small dose of it will allow you to identify when you are getting hit.

Floatant Isn’t a Must

Start your emerger fishing without a floatant. It’s going to stay near the surface on quite a few casts, but it’s never bad if the fly sinks under the surface a bit. Again, emerger patterns aren’t always meant to be fished on the surface.

It’s okay if these flies drop and float up and down the column a bit. The fish are actively feeding and even though they may be looking towards the surface there’s nothing saying that they won’t eat a little lower.

Lose The Drag

You can fish an emerger pattern similar to a dry fly. Like most anglers understand, you can’t have drag in your line. The drag is going to kill a drift faster than anything.

If you see fish rising, cast towards it. As soon as the fly hits the water, make sure that it is leading the charge. This may require you to mend upstream and let your fly dictate the pace at which it drifts downstream.

Also, similar to dry flies, emerger flies get hit extremely quick. They do not waste time when they’re in feeding mode. They eat one fly and move right on to the next. In this case, you need to have your off-hand ready.

An angler fly fishing in cloudy water

I have lost quite a few fish because I wasn’t quick enough to strip set. It’s amazing how fast a fish will react to your fly. However, the beauty of emerger and dry fly fishing is that everything moves so fast. Even if you miss a fish, reload and cast again.

Long Leader Helps

Long leaders can make a big difference for your experience. The longer the leader, the father it is away from your fly line. However, a long leader can be a very difficult cast. You’ll find yourself tangled if you aren’t patient with your casts.

If you choose this method, don’t be surprised if you find yourself stuck in everything around you. Also, you’ll likely have a tendency to overcast. Most anglers focus on their fly line when making the casts. Remember a 12 foot leader plus tippet can cover quite a bit of water.

Don’t Give Up Too Early

Many of the guides I have fished with over the years have all cautioned me on the same thing. They warn me against removing my emerger flies too early. As soon as I see fish break the surface, I’m too tempted to switch.

The past three times I have fished with guides, they’ve told me to keep it on about 20 minutes longer than I would have liked. I’m thankful that they instructed me to do this because I landed some of the biggest fish of the day this way.

Emergers Are Difficult

One of the big things to remember about fishing emerger flies is that it’s going to be a challenge. Fish are picky and aren’t going to make your life easy. They expect a natural presentation and will rarely hit anything that doesn’t look normal.

You have to make sure the fly is sitting at the right depth, the drag isn’t hindering the quality of the drift and you casted the right distance. It’s no guarantee that you’re going to land fish the first or even second time you fish with emerging flies.

Shorter is Better

If you’re learning how to fish with emerging flies, keep in mind that you don’t want to put yourself in a situation you don’t know how to handle. An easy way to keep things under control is to shorten your cast length.

An angler fly fishing using an ant flies in a river.

The shorter casts you have, the happier you will be. As you gain experience, you can lengthen the casts and work yourself out of tough situations, but at the start, keep it simple. My dad always said the “Keep it Simple Stupid” rule applied nowhere better than fly fishing.

Are You Ready To Fish with Emergers?

Few people are truly ready to fish with emergers. It’s a difficult process that is going to stretch every ounce of patience that you have. However, since this isn’t a common method of fly fishing, you’ll land quite a few fish if you master it.

Fish are used to seeing wet flies and dry flies. They don’t often see flies in between stages. These are some of their easiest targets and don’t pass up on the opportunity to eat these fish.

Stay patient and give it a shot. Once you learn the tendencies, you’ll be good to go!

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My name is Danny Mooers and I’ve been fly fishing for five years. As soon as I went to college, I dove headfirst into my obsession for fly angling. Every spare weekend or long break was dedicated to finding fish. I’ve fished all over North America in search of trout, salmon, steelhead and everything in between. I currently write articles for Guide Recommended and Reel Adventure Fishing. Fly angling is one of the most challenging yet rewarding hobbies any person can have. Don’t be afraid to give it a try.  It’s an addicting activity that tests everything from your fine motor skills to your patience, but it’s well worth your time.

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